BACKGROUND: Mortality from cardiovascular diseases is substantially higher in central and eastern Europe than in the west. After the fall of communism, these countries have undergone radical changes in their political, social, and economic environments but little is known about the impact of these changes on health behaviours or risk factors. Data from the Czech Republic, a country whose mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases are among the highest, were analysed in this report. OBJECTIVES: To examine the trends in cardiovascular risk factors in Czech population over the last decade during which a major and sudden change of the political and social system occurred in 1989, and whether the trends differed in relation to age and educational group. DESIGN AND SETTING: Data from three cross sectional surveys conducted in 1985, 1988, and 1992 as a part of the MONICA project were analysed. The surveys examined random samples of men and women aged 25-64 in six Czech districts and measured the following risk factors: smoking, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and total and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. RESULTS: The numbers of subjects (response rate) examined were 2573 (84%) in 1985, 2769 (87%) in 1988, and 2353 (73%) in 1992. Total cholesterol and body mass index increased between 1985 and 1988 and decreased between 1988 and 1992. The prevalence of smoking was declining slightly in men between 1985 and 1992 but remained stable in women. There were only small changes in blood pressure. The decline in cholesterol and BMI in 1988-92 may be related to changes in foods consumption after the price deregulation in 1991. An improvement in risk profile was more pronounced in younger age groups, and the declines in cholesterol and obesity were substantially larger in men and women with higher education. By contrast, there was an increase in smoking in women educated only to primary level. CONCLUSION: Substantial changes in cholesterol, obesity, and women's smoking occurred in the Czech population after the political changes in 1989. Although a causal association cannot be claimed, national trends in foods consumption are consistent with changes in blood lipids and obesity. Further monitoring of trends is required to confirm these trends.
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